In the most unassuming area, amid farmland and fields of wildflowers, is an old creamery in Kolberg, Wisconsin. It’s there that you’ll find the highly skilled and well-known artist Jim Rose.
For the last 20 years, Rose and his family have called this area in southern Door County home. He works in the former creamery, a 100-year-old, Belgian-brick structure that’s been converted into 2,250 square feet of workspace. He lives in a farmhouse adjacent to the creamery, which makes for an easy commute by bike or leisurely stroll.
Rose is best known for creating Shaker-inspired furniture from reclaimed steel, but he also creates a series of sculptural works that he titles “Structures,” which take the shape of minimalist, iconic house forms that embody all the textures and materials he works with in his furniture. The sculptures bring to mind the heaviness and importance that the concept of home can represent, and they’re an interesting contrast to the furniture he creates.
Rose studied sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. While traveling throughout the Northeast after graduation, he was drawn to Shaker-style furniture and took those ideas back to his studio, where he reimagined them in steel. Shaker-style furniture is known for its clean lines, tapered legs and minimalist designs — practical designs that originated with a religious group that formed in the Northeast during the late 1700s.
Rose is an active, friendly, down-to-earth artist and an avid cycler who averages 200 miles per week during the summer riding season, often to clear his mind and gain inspiration.
I met him in his large, open and very well-organized studio as he was sealing a piece with wax. His work requires physicality and strength — pieces weigh more than 200 pounds — so he has his own forklift and a 15,000-pound mechanical steel shear.
Rose scours scrapyards for steel to use in his pieces and collects different colored scraps of metal to use as inlays in the furniture. Often a certain color or patina can inspire his next piece. A Gee’s Bend quilt exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2003 inspired him to start using color and pattern, and he also finds inspiration in the work of modernist painters Agnes Martin and Richard Diebenkorn; minimalist, conceptual sculptor Rachel Whiteread; and visual artist and sculptor Doris Salcedo.
The furniture pieces are deceptively simple, elegant yet rustic. They are large, heavy and metal — which can come across as cold and foreboding — but Rose’s talent for weaving in color and pattern, greatly influenced by quilts and textiles, gives them a warmth and approachability. He has created timeless pieces that not only function perfectly but are also works of art that fit seamlessly into a home.
Rose collects signs and old metal scraps with arrows on them as well, which he posts on his Instagram account, @jimrosefurniture. He also collects metal pieces that he finds on the road, old tools, electric fans, art books and bikes.
When asked what has greatly improved his studio practice over the years, Rose said, “I aspire to make something every day, or at least think it through in my head. Living an active and healthful lifestyle of exercising and eating well so that I am able to continue creating … and stay off my phone.” We could all benefit from his good sense.
Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Fish Creek represents Jim Rose. His work also resides in numerous private and public collections throughout the country, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.